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Uniting Church in Australia Assembly - News

Flexible, affordable child care should be a priority of the next Federal Government to ensure all families are able to balance the needs of work and family life.

Uniting Church National President, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton, said the Church wanted to see a child-centred approach to children’s services that focuses on what is in the best interest of children and recognised their developmental, spiritual and social needs.

“Family friendly policies have been a key issue for both major parties during the campaign, yet none have given a real commitment to making child care more accessible.

“Access to child care is a major part of ensuring we have cohesive families. More and more families need to use child care to balance work and family commitments but so far we’ve only had passing commitments from all parties that they will make child care more available,” Rev. Drayton said.

Rev. Drayton said families deserved real answers on how each of the major parties would ensure child care is more affordable, within close proximity, and available to all families at the times they need it.

“Without clear details of how they will make child care more accessible and affordable, promises of extra places are empty promises,” he said.

UnitingCare Australia National Director, Lin Hatfield Dodds said the UnitingCare network has witnessed the growing shortage of centre-based child care places now available to working families.

“While both sides of politics pledge more government funded before and after school places and in-home care this is simply playing at the edges. The real answer must focus on the growing demand from working families for centre-based care, which receives no direct Federal Government operational assistance.

“UnitingCare’s not-for-profit centre-based care providers are facing an on-going battle to recruit and retain staff, pay wage costs – which account for around 80 per cent of our running costs - and keep fees at an affordable level for families.

“The stringent regulatory standards required and our focus on providing quality care means it is imperative our centres recruit professionally trained staff. Unfortunately, the low award wages offered to child care workers have made the profession unattractive and there are now widespread staff shortages.

“We struggle to fill vacancies in existing centres, let alone find the staff needed to consider opening more centres to meet the growing demand for places,” Ms Hatfield Dodds said.

Ms Hatfield Dodds said simply increasing Federal Government rebates or offering free care to families was not the answer.

“Increasing the CCB rebate means parents will get more back after paying their child care fees - it won’t help meet the costs of paying staff wages and it will do nothing to help attract more staff into the sector. The Federal Government needs to consider training and wage subsidies to attract more staff to child care. It is only then that providers will be able to attract the high quality staff that are needed to expand existing centres or open new ones. Without this, the promise of more places will be a very empty one for Australian families.”

Media contacts: Gavin Melvin, Senior Communication Officer, 0417 416 674
Lin Hatfield Dodds, UnitingCare Australia, 0408 402 222


Wednesday, 29 September 2004

Education about more than just schools

The Uniting Church today called on political leaders to stop driving a wedge between public and private schools and focus on what really matters in education - quality and lifelong learning.

National President, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton, said both parties had dished out election sweeteners during the last few weeks but neither had recognised the need to support all students in all schools.

“The hand outs being offered by both parties lack a vision for the education of future generations. They focus on funding to particular types of schools and not on how we ensure that a high quality education is available to all children.

“They are driven by short-term political gain and do not address the key question of how we make Australia a progressive and highly educated nation.

“All schools must build positive, creative and passionate young people if our Nation is to flourish. To do this, all schools need adequate funds and resources, and most importantly a vision for the future.

“Our political leaders are doing very little to address the constant arguments between the States and the Commonwealth around funding and administration of our schools.

“At the moment there is no clear vision in education for the future. We have two levels of government with a financial investment in education but no one government is able to implement a vision for a significantly better future. In the meantime, the public is left with promises of more money, but no plan how to deliver a much-needed difference.

“The current debate misses the point that across the entire education sector the funding pot is simply too small and the bureaucracy is too complex,” Rev. Drayton said.

Uniting Education, National Director, John Emmett, said the real issue is not the funding of non-government schools, but the adequate resourcing of the whole sector.

“It’s time to re-visit the two-tier system that exists in both primary and secondary schools which is based on the capacity of people to pay. The focus must shift from that of ‘users pays’ to the basic value that every child deserves the very best education we as a nation can offer.

“There needs to be a major increase in new funding to government schools coupled with a change in policy to allow them the freedom to acquire and accumulate funds,” Mr Emmett said.

“Quality teaching must be supported and strengthened with more funding and resources. Teachers are at the heart of the education system and we need to help them improve their skills.

“Issues to do with University and further education must also be debated. Funding needs to be increased to universities for more places and to ensure lecture and study group sizes do not reach unsustainable levels.

“HECS fees should be held at 2004 levels and governments need to ensure the number of full fee paying places does not blow out and make university attendance dependant on people’s capacity to pay, or repay debt.

“It is time to stop squabbling over far too small a pot of money, dishing out monetary favours and start talking about the real issues in education.”

Media contacts: Gavin Melvin, Senior Communication Officer, 0417 416 674
John Emmett, Uniting Education, 0419 564 351
Dr Drayton is also available for interview on request

The financial, physical and emotional survival of rural and remote Australia requires a commitment to a comprehensive long-term national strategy for economic regeneration in the bush the Uniting Church said today.

Uniting Church President, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton, said the Church’s experience in working in remote Australia called it to speak up to ensure sustainable communities are not just for the 85 per cent of Australians who live in one per cent of our landmass.

“Transforming rural Australian communities into communities of hope requires national investments in health, education and infrastructure. Rural and remote Australia continues to feel the brunt of our harsh climate and of changing economic and social conditions. Poverty in the bush is disproportionately higher than in other parts of the country.”

“We need a national strategy to re-build our rural communities that includes cooperation between Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments across all portfolios,” Rev. Drayton said.

Uniting Church Frontier Services National Director, Rosemary Young, said the agency provides families and individuals living in remote and isolated parts of Australia with health care services, family and children’s support, respite care, counselling, community welfare programs and aged care services

“Our patrol ministers work across 80 per cent of the Australian landmass and we provide over 75 services to more than 15,000 families and individuals with a mix of Government and private funding.

“In this election campaign we need commitments to a national strategy where local communities are consulted about their needs, inputs and outcomes,” she said.

Mrs Young said a national strategy for the bush must also review the funding formulas used in key primary service areas like health, child care and education which do not reflect the real cost of service delivery in the bush.

“The cost of providing residential aged care in Tennant Creek for example is almost twice the national average. The small number of residents, the high care needs of those who do need residential care and the difficulties of recruiting and retaining qualified staff make this an extremely costly undertaking.”

“In too many areas we see funding allocations being made at urban levels for services in remote Australia. This is unrealistic and unsustainable and we need to ensure that governments adequately resource the continued development of innovative and flexible services,” Mrs Young said.

Media contacts: Gavin Melvin, Senior Communication Officer, 0417 416 674
Rosemary Young, Frontier Services, 0427 180 265


The Uniting Church today called on Australians to carefully consider their vote before casting it this Saturday to ensure it reflected the values and standards they expected from our politicians.

President, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton, said that throughout the election the Uniting Church has been calling for policies that ensure justice for all.

“The Uniting Church has been asking political leaders and candidates to make sure that the campaign was about more than economic policy and national security. We asked for policies to address issues like poverty and homelessness and ones that committed Australia to being a decent global citizen through increased aid for international development. We also sought policies that made a real commitment to reconciliation and supported religious and social diversity.

“The Uniting Church is not alone in wanting these policies – just like millions of other Australians we share the hope that politicians can dig a little deeper in the policy pot and reignite our hope for a confident, compassionate and generous Australia,” Rev. Drayton said.

“Sadly, many of these areas have been overlooked by political parties rushing to make billions of dollars in promises to influence how people will vote this Saturday.”

Rev. Drayton said this Saturday the Uniting Church is asking all Australians to consider if their vote will be:

  1. A vote for peace (which might mean a vote against increased security)
  2. A vote for the world (which might mean redefining the national interest)
  3. A vote for the environment (which might be a vote for the future of all Australians)
  4. A vote for diversity (which might mean loving others instead of fearing them)
  5. A vote for communities (which might mean the economy serves us not the other way)
  6. A vote for reconciliation (which might mean health spending on more than Medicare)
  7. A vote for the basics (which might mean considering what governments should be
    responsible for)
  8. A vote for those in need (which might be you or might be someone else)
  9. A vote for a lively democracy (which might be undermined by electioneering)
  10. A vote for justice (which might be a vote for security after all)

Media contact: Gavin Melvin, Senior Communication Officer, 0417 416 674
Rev. Drayton is available for interview on request


UnitingCare Australia is part of a contingent of Church based service providers that have called on the re-elected Coalition government to make the most of Australia’s economic stability and prosperity by committing to a National Anti-Poverty Plan within its first 100 days of government.

UnitingCare, Anglicare Australia, the Brotherhood of St Laurence, Catholic Welfare Australia and the Australian Council of Social Service called on the government and all politicians returning to Canberra to create a well resourced National Anti-Poverty Plan to help the poorest Australians.

“Access to and affordability of services such as housing, education, health, and employment is already beyond the reach of many Australians. With two million people living in poverty in Australia, we call on this Government to urgently address this matter1. By acting now, we can save ourselves the social and economic costs the poverty will create in the future,” said ACOSS President Andrew McCallum on behalf of the group.

“While many Australians have enjoyed the benefits of economic growth and sizeable budget surpluses, sadly for many the economic ship had sailed past them. It would be a national disgrace not to invest surpluses to reduce the number of people living in poverty – especially when Australia has the fifth highest level of poverty in the OECD,” said Anglicare Australia Executive Director Sue Leppert. (Interviews Tel: 0402 825 282)

“To create a prosperous and inclusive Australia, the Coalition government must invest more in education, full time employment, quality aged care and affordable housing for all Australians. This much needed social investment will help people out of poverty and enable them to benefit from, and contribute to, Australia’s economic growth,” said Brotherhood of St Laurence Executive Director Tony Nicholson. (Tel: 0417 307 716)

“The community service sector is ready to lend its support to a National Anti-Poverty Plan that would put aside political differences and concentrate the energies of the government and non-government sector to find effective and permanent solutions that reduce poverty,” said Catholic Welfare Australia’s Executive Director, Frank Quinlan. (Tel: 0417 220 779)

“What we have seen in countries like Ireland and Britain*, where anti-poverty targets and plans have been introduced, is that reducing poverty is not a pipe dream. A National Anti-Poverty Plan should ensure that the poorest families are given a fair chance and help narrow the gap between rich and poor in Australia,” said Lin Hatfield-Dodds, National Director of UnitingCare. (Tel: 0408 402 222)

*ACOSS has released an Info Paper International Comparisons of Anti-Poverty Plans – Lessons for Australia which is downloadable from www.acoss.org.au This Info Paper examines the British and Irish anti-poverty plans and their relevance for Australia.

1) According to NATSEM research in 2000 there were around 2.5 million people in income poverty (living below the poverty line), including 750,000 children (13% of people and 15% of children).



The Uniting Church today said that it is disappointing that the new Shadow Minister for Immigration, Laurie Ferguson, has already shown that he knows nothing about the procedures for assessing refugee claims.

Rev. Elenie Poulos, National Director, UnitingJustice Australia said that it is Mr Ferguson, not refugee advocates, who is undermining the rules, controls, and checking of refugee claims by the ridiculous comment that asylum seekers have fraudulent cases or manipulate the legal system.

“A refugee determination process, as a system for checking refugee claims, involves assessing an asylum seeker’s claims against the Refugee Convention definition of a refugee,” Rev Poulos said.

“All people have a right to seek asylum in another country and it is through the rules, controls, and checking of the refugee determination process that their claim for protection is tested. This process necessitates that some claims for protection will be accepted and others refused.

“Mr Ferguson’s comments that rejected claims are somehow fraudulent show a complete lack of understanding of the protection system, and a clear disregard for the principles of justice upon which refugee determination processes should be based.

“If a person’s claim for protection is rejected, this simply means that the person is not a Convention Refugee. It does not mean that the person acted fraudulently.”

Rev. Poulos also said that it is widely recognised that many people who are in need of protection fall outside the Refugee Convention definition of a refugee.

“Many asylum seekers who have their refugee protection claim refused have genuine protection needs including those that invoke our obligations under other international treaties, people who would be at risk if they were returned, and those who have experienced severe suffering or human rights abuses.” Rev. Poulos said.

“The Minister for Immigration has granted a number of visas to asylum seekers using discretionary power for reasons such as these.

“Many churches, refugee advocates, and community organisations actually advocate for more effective rules and controls, such as the introduction of a system of complementary protection so that these decisions are subject to more stringent checks and more effective accountability processes.”

Media contact: Gavin Melvin, Senior Communications Officer, 0417 416 674


More than 450 of Australia’s community service providers yesterday agreed to make child poverty a number one priority by committing to programs and services that will help treat the symptoms and eliminate the causes of child poverty.

The UnitingCare Network National Conference yesterday endorsed the statement, Because Children Matter – Tackling Poverty Together, committing its network of over 450 service providers to putting child poverty on the national agenda.

UnitingCare Australia National Director, Lin Hatfield Dodds, said the UnitingCare network is well placed to help tackle the problem because its agencies work with vulnerable and disadvantaged Australians every day of the year.

“Today, 800,000 Australian children live in poverty and 3.6 million households live on a combined family income of less than $400 per week.

“Children living in poverty experience the multiple effects of isolation, reduced quality of life, lack of choice and fewer opportunities and greater exposure to abuse and neglect.

”The Uniting Church in Australia has over 450 community services agencies – together we provide services to over 1 million people every year. We work with vulnerable and disadvantaged children, young people and their families in all States and Territories across Australia.

“We deliver children’s services, child protection, out of home care, programs for homeless young people, family support and early intervention. Our credibility lies in our direct and daily contact with families, the work that we do and the outcomes we achieve.

“As a nation, we have the knowledge, the skills, and the resources to tackle the causes and impacts of child poverty. As a network, UnitingCare has the experience and knowledge to work with Government to do that,” Ms Hatfield Dodds said.

In its statement UnitingCare’s agencies and missions across Australia committed to providing high quality services for children and their families, to involve children and families in the development of its programs; to work collaboratively both with government and non-government agencies to develop and deliver services; and to advocate for the rights of all children.

The statement also urged Governments and decision makers to put children first by ensuring there are opportunities for all children and young people to reach their full potential.

“Governments have an important role to play in tackling child poverty. Our network wants to see a long term approach to funding programs for children and families at risk and is seeking strategies that address long-term unemployment and low income and material disadvantage and offer equitable access to educational opportunity and safe and secure housing.

“Working together with government and communities, locally, regionally and nationally, we can eliminate child poverty in Australia. Our network is committed to ending child poverty and we call on governments across Australia to work with us to eliminate it once and for all.”

Media Contacts: Gavin Melvin, Senior Communication Officer, Uniting Church, 0417 416 674
Lin Hatfield Dodds, National Director, UnitingCare Australia, 0408 402 222

Poverty is about a lack of means to live a decent life. It’s about not having enough money to eat healthy food. Poverty is not being able to take your kids to the doctors or dentist. Poverty is never having new clothes, or holidays. Poverty means standing in supermarket queues, quietly praying you’ve added up your handful of items correctly. If you haven’t, you'll face the embarrassment of having to put something back.

Poverty is about always having to say “no” to school camps and excursions. Poverty means never going to the movies, or out for a casual coffee with friends. Poverty means putting up with rotten teeth and a bad back. Poverty means standing in the rain waiting for busses that never run on time. Poverty means having your name on an endless Government list for somewhere safe to live. Poverty means that other people make decisions about your life most of the time.

Could you and your family live on $400 a week? Four hundred dollars for everything? Four hundred dollars to pay the rent, food, transport, clothes, the doctor and chemist, school and kids sports…. This year more than 3.6 million Australian households are struggling to survive on four hundred dollars a week.

Poverty exists. It’s bad for everyone. Together, we can make a difference.

A new UnitingCare Australia action kit targeting Uniting Church congregations and UnitingCare agencies and missions was launched recently to coincide with National Anti-Poverty week and to help the Church meet its aim of getting poverty, especially child poverty, on the National agenda.

Developed in partnership with congregations and agencies the Not Enough poverty kits aim to enable local mission, by empowering UCA members and UnitingCare staff and supporters to use their gifts, skills, and local connections to act for change for those whose lives are less rich and more troubled than they need to be.

The action kit has four sessions developed in cooperation between congregations, agencies and Assembly Agencies UnitingCare Australia, Uniting Justice and Uniting Education. It aims to develop conversations about how Christian tradition and experience can be brought into focus to encourage us to work together.

UnitingCare Australia National Director, Lin Hatfield Dodds, said each session is designed for a small group to work through in one meeting and there are a range of activity choices available in each session, both for those who would describe themselves as people of faith, and for those who work or volunteer in our agencies and share our passion for justice.

“The action kit was designed by people in congregations and agencies for congregations and agencies. If you want to produce resources that excite and engage people you need to have them help shape the project,” she said.

The kit follows on from UnitingCare Australia’s on-going advocacy work on poverty at the Federal level and the recent decision of the UnitingCare National Conference to commit the 450 strong network of service providers to getting child poverty on the national agenda.

“We deliver children’s services, child protection, out of home care, programs for homeless young people, family support and early intervention. Our credibility lies in our direct and daily contact with families, the work that we do and the outcomes we achieve.

“As a nation, we have the knowledge, the skills, and the resources to tackle the causes and impacts of child poverty. As a network, UnitingCare has the experience and knowledge to work with Government to do that.”

Lin said one of the ways to achieve change at a Government level was to mobilise local congregations, UnitingCare providers and communities to act and agitate for change. “Imagine if every Federal politician was contacted in their own seat by locals with the same message about serious, well resourced national action on poverty.”

Poverty exists. Its bad for everyone. Together we can make the difference.

“Working together, we can transform our neighbourhoods, our communities, and our country, one choice and one act at a time, to be places of hope and belonging for everyone”.

‘Every day, UnitingCare community service providers see the tragic effects of poverty and financial hardship and the way these compound for the most disadvantaged in our communities—people who are homeless, those with poor mental health, people living with a disability. We need to turn around Australia’s poor record on dealing with poverty. Working locally through this action kit provides a way for national action and transformation to begin at a grass roots level.”

Want to know more? You can download the kit from the UnitingCare Australia website (www.unitingcare.org.au) where you will find lots of information about poverty and inequality.